“The whole West has closed ranks against us in order to destroy us,” Yekaterina Kolotovkina, head of a humanitarian fund for soldiers and wife of a Russian general fighting in Ukraine, said at the Samara rally, saying echoes a main theme of state propaganda. .
On social media, early calls from pro-war Russian commentators to accuse those responsible for the Makiivka casualties of treason have given way to more cautious criticism of local military decisions and advice to avert future disasters. None appeared to be critical of Mr Putin, with veiled attacks more often aimed at his top officials.
The instinct to spare Mr Putin any blame was evident in a post by influential Russian military blogger, Anastasia Kashevarova, from the Samara region, on Monday night. “Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich, we love our country,” she wrote, referring to Mr Putin. “I love Russia so much that I hate some people around you.”
But some analysts believe that an outpouring of protests could still occur. Mikhail Vinogradov, a Russian political scientist, noted that public reaction to military losses during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s “did not happen right away, not in the first year of the war”.
The fact that a public backlash against Mr. Putin inside Russia has yet to materialize could mean one of two things, Mr. Vinogradov said: either the political system is “maximally stable,” either feelings of frustration gradually develop and “could we day” led to an explosion of energy.
“Both hypotheses have a right to exist,” he said.
For the Kremlin, it’s not just the war that could inject political volatility this year. The next Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 2024. While Mr Putin would not face any real electoral competition, the date loomed large as analysts and members of the Russian elite largely saw it as a moment where Mr Putin, 70, could specify who he wants to eventually succeed him.